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Class warfare? Gingrich, Santorum tout small donors versus Romney

 

Updated 5:38 p.m. - Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are taking turns Thursday assailing the immense financial support within the GOP for Mitt Romney, highlighting the role of money and wealth in the Republican campaign.

Santorum and Gingrich each took strides in separate campaign events to note the fundraising advantage enjoyed by Romney during the campaign. But the comments weren't just intended to advance a David-versus-Goliath narrative for both candidates; they were also trying to make the case that there's a gap between the party's activist class and its establishment, represented by the donations to each campaign.

"Governor Romney has the ability to raise huge amounts of money," Gingrich said at an event in Woodstock, GA. "Only 6 percent of his donors have given less than $200."

Santorum, this afternoon in Atlanta, made a similar argument. The former Pennsylvania senator pointed to the fact that his campaign raised $9 million in February from over 130,000 donors -- a point meant to emphasize grassroots support for his campaign.

"Two-thirds of our donations were small-dollar givers, compared to Gov. Romney, 9 percent of his donations were small-dollar donations," he said. "We have the base of the Republican Party, we have the activists who are excited about our campaign who are contributing."

It matches, in many ways, Democrats' efforts to define Romney as a wealthy individual who struggles to identify with most middle class voters, a message, it seems, that has taken hold in the Republican primary as well.

Gingrich and Santorum each sought to link Romney with Wall Street, as well, linking Romney more with elite financiers than the small-business owners with whom Romney identifies himself frequently on the campaign trail.

"We're just not going around meeting with CEOs and in the big cities,” Santorum said. “We're living off, this campaign is living off the hard work of average ordinary people across this country who want to see a fundamental change, not on folks who have -- well, let's say a special interest in electing their candidate.”

These comments wade into the murky waters of class divisions that have become part of the Republican campaign. Romney has performed particularly well with more wealthy Republican voters, according to entrance and exit polls of caucuses and primaries that have taken place to date. In all but a few contests, Romney has lost the more middle-class and blue-collar portions of the Republican electorate to his challengers.

But the Romney campaign had previously held up its fundraising prowess as a sign of its strength in the Republican field. They trumpeted, for instance, a "National Call Day" the Romney campaign had hosted in Las Vegas just shortly after Romney made his candidacy official. The campaign netted $1 million that day – and promises of much more. Romney also attracted some of the GOP's biggest money men throughout the campaign, such as Ken Langone, the founder of The Home Depot.

"Virtually all of his donors maxed out,” Gingrich said, “ ’cause he went to Wall Street, and he actually got the money from the people who got bailed out by TARP, so when you see the attack ads, they’re being paid for with your tax money from the guys.”

Romney's campaign reported receiving more than 9,600 donations in January, according to its most recent Federal Election Commission filing. The campaign received about $6.5 million over the same period, too, making for an average donation of about $673.

The Romney campaign said that 75 percent of its donors have given $250 or less. The campaign has received over 141,000 donors, about 125,000 of whom -- about 88 percent -- are permitted to give additional money without surpassing federal limits on donations to a campaign in an election cycle.

(By comparison, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina asserted in January that the president's campaign had an average donation of $55, and that 98 percent of contributions were $250 or less.)

There are signs that Romney may begin working to change that. He asked supporters to go to his website during his victory speech Tuesday evening in Michigan, the first such time he made such a plea in a speech. It may be driven by necessity, too, given the immense amounts of money the Romney campaign has spent over the past two months, as well as Romney's resistance to self-funding his campaign, in part. (Romney spent millions of his own fortune on his 2008 White House bid.)

There's also a certain degree of irony in Gingrich and Santorum decrying deep-pocketed support of Romney given the Super PACs working on each candidate's behalf. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has spent more than $10 million to prop up Gingrich's campaign through Winning our Future. And investor Foster Friess is the most prominent donor to the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund.

"I mean, look, I don't' have billionaires giving me tens of billions of dollars to Super PACs," Santorum said in Georgia.

No. Just millionaires.